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Part 1 Project 1999
Peter Williams
Oxford Brookes University Oxford | UK

During the Third Year my architectural designs looked at the question of boundaries, be they physical or mental. Each project marked an important development in the journey of the individual. The initial project was for a passport control desk which marked a physical boundary, the grey area between being in 'no-man's land' and being accepted into your destination. The main project was for the Dover Passenger Handling Terminal (DPHT), and this dealt more with mental boundaries, since the building envelope acted as a place of destination as well as a ceremonial gateway to Britain.

At at time when the ongoing refugee crises in the Balkans is being constantly presented to us through the media, the project called in question the issue of refugee status, and also required me to examine not only the 'plight' of these peoples, but also our own perceptions of our environment and of these new entrants to the UK.

My scheme is designed to mark the physical boundary between countries, and the mental boundaries between 'staying and going'. Through a series of sliding elements in the building envelope, the project frames and dictates the views to and from the world that lies outside the terminal. Users are given discrete glimpses outside the authoritarian walls of govermental power. The succession of views that are achieved on passing through the building culminates in a large, framed 'picture postcard' view of the White Cliffs at the end. You leave the building, or indeed the country, with the stereotypical image that we have conditioned ourselves into believing in: the view of the sea, cliff and sky seemingly framed perfectly by the building. But this vision of tranquility is also revealed to be a haunted image, since the spectator also hears the noise of the port activities outside, with the rush of people and charging traffic. The subconscious reminder as you approach the exit is that the formal mental image of the 'picture postcard' is not quite what it seems.

The design of the building is intentionally monumental and brutal in its honesty, as well as providing a clear-cut threshold between country, zones of time, and states of mind. From the sea, the tectonics of the building appear to take on the qualities of an open door. What exactly lies through that brightly-lit opening ? Does it mark a process of tough offical interrogation, or the gateway to a new life ? As the building proceeds to call into question its own context and purpose, so too the viewer is encouraged to examine their own sense of boundaries, whether these be physical or mental.

Peter Williams


Peter Williams' multi-layered work is built on the foundations of an unusually broad understanding of architecture and its cultural context. More importantly, it is driven by a finely-tuned social conscience.

In our view, the project which he has submitted demonstrates an extraordinary versatility and conceptual range. His passport control desk was a study of the complex power relations and psychological anxieties that come into play in the few seconds that it takes for a passport to be checked. Here the tensions between the traveller and the guard, the individual and the state, and the body and authoritarian space, all come into play. The project is used mainly as a means of charting an existing reality through drawing.

From the English Channel side, his proposal for a Dover Immigration Terminal presents a somewhat forbidding and rusting steel wall. It responds to the scale of the site and stands out against the backdrop of the white cliffs. Initially it can be seen as a fragment of 'Fortress Britain', whose immigration policies are seen by many as excessively prohibitive. But the scheme is also shot through with moments of optimism. The two main planes are split, elevated, and cranked to suggest a door which is ajar but in balance. The journey through the building follows a sequence of compression and release to dramatise the moment of embarkation (ever since the advent of Eurostar, after all, what does ferry travel have going for it other than its more acutely tangible experiences). Just before leaving the building, the traveller is presented with a postcard made real and gigantic by the insertion of a large framed view of the cliffs. All sorts of questions are asked here about the myth of place, and about the traveller's experience of their environemnt.

Peter is a student who excels in every department. He always reworks, refines and hones his work in pursuit of the highest possible standards.

• Page Hits: 12728         • Entry Date: 08 January 1999         • Last Update: 10 May 2001